“I’m sorry.” The stranger spoke again and this time his seductive voice was so close to her ear. Laurel still had her back towards him but he had grabbed her mid fall in a pair of strong arms. He pressed her against his chest and helped her regain her balance. That time his scent was so close, so haunting. It took all her self-control not to melt right on the spot. His arms slid around her waist, under the pretext that he helped her to get back on her feet… and Laurel didn’t mind it as much as she should have. “I didn’t mean to scare you, ma’am. Are you all right?”
Would she protest if he leaned her against the ladder, made her grasp the wooden steps and fucked her from behind before leaving? Right in that moment her body had taken control over her mind and she’d even demand it.
Laurel felt his breath in her hair and caught another sensation in the swirl of red wine. Winter. Ice.
The moment their eyes met the stranger took a step back and bowed to her. A wicked little grin went over his lips but didn’t reach his eyes, pale blue and cold as the heart of the winter. Long, pale blond hair fell down his shoulders, in a stark contrast to his black coat. He was as tall as Corwin, though less muscular and on the lean side, with long, elegant fingers that had been brushing past her waist just a minute ago.
She had never met a creature with such an austere beauty and seductive aura.
He was wearing a long black coat that made his pale skin stand out even more. Laurel looked down at his hands in matching leather gloves. How could those slender fingers have such a strong grasp? At first sight he appeared somehow fragile to her. That delicacy melted when the stranger looked deep into her.
Did he read her thoughts?
Laurel snapped out of her trance. It dawned on her that the stranger waited for her to respond, with one pale blond eyebrow arched and that same half-mocking grin. She cleared her throat, gathered all her powers of enchantment and flashed him her best smile. She reserved that smile only for customers and potential lovers. It tickled her pride when surprise went through his gaze.
“This is so embarrassing.” Laurel cooed and leaned against the ladder with a mysterious expression that rivaled his. Desire was still ravaging her body, but she had gotten her act together. “Thank you, sir, I’d have broken my neck if you hadn’t helped me.”
He chuckled and tilted his head to the side. His eyes studied her with a strange mixture of curiosity and arrogant possession.
“That’s so kind of you to say, ma’am, but you wouldn’t be in any danger of snapping your lovely neck if I hadn’t startled you.” The stranger responded and curled his long fingers in a come hither gesture. His scent was red wine and his voice was as deep as dark chocolate.
Beautiful… and dangerous. His polite voice had a subtle menace about it. A smile that never reached his eyes, a calculating look on his face… and that aura of a predator masked beneath a delicious fragrance.
He couldn’t be an ordinary man.
A sense of unease lurked inside her chest, a weak, little flame compared to the forest fire of physical desire.
The desire for submission.
Laurel had always been faithful to her wolf during all those years Corwin had been by her side. Nobody else provoked her interest or tempted her, not in such an intense way. Seduction served her as a weapon but she didn’t let the flame touch her… unless her lover and her reached the peak of pleasure together.
That man woke up other cravings inside her, desire she thought she had buried. Laurel wanted him to push her down on her knees, raise her skirt and run a smooth palm down her exposed ass. The leather of his gloves would slide down her buttocks, warming them up, running along the strip of wetness at the front part of her panties.
The first stinging slap of his leather clad palm would sting and bring tears to her eyes… and she’d beg for more. Here she was now, melting under the cold gaze of a stranger and had a hard time restraining herself from dropping on her knees.
Would he be rough or seductive in his domination? She imagined his full lips and that he’d sink his teeth in her neck until he drank the first drops of scarlet blood. Laurel squeezed her thighs as she pictured him licking the blood. He’d be right behind her, pressing his body against her spanked ass and would reach out to rip her dress.
“Perhaps you’d like to sit down?” His mocking voice once again snapped her out of her shameful fantasies. “You are red in the face. Not that I complain. A lady could always use natural blush on her cheeks.”
Oh, someone was full of himself. She wouldn’t give him the pleasure of seeing her flustered or angry. Protesting and acting like an offended maiden would just make his smugness grow. Instead, Laurel smirked at him, turned around with a sensual lilt of her hips and strolled to the cash register. The lust weakened its grasp around her throat now that she had no direct contact with him.
Was it her imagination or did his eyes follow her every move?
“You might be right, sir. About blushing.” When she got behind her desk, at a safe distance, Laurel turned to him with a flip of her long, wavy hair. He still stood at the same place, amused and waiting for her to make the next move. “Few things impress me enough to tint my cheeks in red.”
His laughter surprised her, its silver, cheerful sound that echoed through Cinnamon’s wooden walls. Listening to him laugh made her think of sparkles and bubbling joy. He was such a contradiction.
“I’m sure I can surprise you, Miss.” The man moved with a casual grace and walked to her as quiet as if he was a tomcat. Laurel looked down at his leather boots, black like the rest of his clothes. “The world is full of unexpected experiences, don’t you think? You might just need to expand your comfort zone.”
Laurel rested her hands on the counter and shot him a questioning look. The strange man was in no hurry to explain what he wanted and enjoyed taking his time. He was looking around with that same mildly intrigued expression but then he fixed his eyes on hers.
“My comfort zone is a sweet place, sir.” Laurel chirped, as if she didn’t understand what he was implying. Everything inside her clenched in anticipation. “Staying inside it has more appeal than venturing out. You might try it someday.”
For the first time since he entered the shop, the stranger looked a little shocked. Insecurity crossed his beautiful features, but that lasted shorter than the blink of an eye. The stranger leaned in and nearly touched her hand. Laurel trembled at his proximity but didn’t move away. The thin hairs on her wrist raised in anticipation, she held her breath and…
…his leather clad fingers only lingered next to her skin before the stranger took a step back.
“Comfort and I bid farewell a long time ago… though I wish I had the time to get to know the zone you’re so fond of.” He moved his eyes from hers and kept gazing at the bookshop’s shelves and decorations with a vague smile. Laurel heard a touch of melancholy in his voice. Once again, it was such a subtle emotion that someone who didn’t have her experienced ear would have missed it. A sigh fell off his sultry lips, even quieter than the drop of the pin.
When he turned his eyes back to hers, he had the same detached look of calculated seduction.
“You have built a lovely bookshop for yourself, Miss. Many people told me that your shop was a local treasure… just like you. I see they weren’t exaggerating.” A hint of warmth crept in his mysterious smile.
He’d be dangerous for her sanity if he stayed close to her for five more minutes. She had to keep her professional mask and go on with the usual sweetness.
“That’s nice of you to say, sir…”
“Severin.” The stranger chuckled and extended his hand for a shake. “Trust me, I’m anything but nice. So if I pay you a compliment, I speak what I think.”
“I appreciate honesty, Mr. Severin.” Laurel hesitated before she returned his gesture. She feared how much she’d like his fingers wrapped around hers.
“Just Severin, I like keeping it personal.” He took her hand and kissed the back of it. She bit her tongue not to let out a moan when Severin tightened his grip and pressed his lips to her hot skin. Laurel did not understand how she hadn’t fallen apart with need.
She had to resist. Corwin was up there and he’d always be her first choice, no matter what this stranger was doing to her body with a glance.
That was just a kiss. What else could he do?
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Severin, I’m Laurel.” She stuttered when he let go of her. The disappointment shook her inside. So that’s what Corwin was going through when she denied him and toyed with him.
“I know.” He smiled back. “I met some ladies in town yesterday and asked them if there was something interesting in the area. They immediately directed me to Miss Laurel’s Cinnamon Bookshop. They’re proud of you.”
Laurel shrugged and picked up one ribbon from the drawer, unsure of what to do with her hands.
“You said it yourself, the bookshop is a treasure.”
“That’s not exactly what I said.” He laughed.
“I believe that’s exactly what you said.” Laurel played with the red edges of the ribbon. Anything to keep her hands from trembling. “This place is part of me… and my sweet zone. Is there anything you’d like from it while you’re here? Were you looking for a book? Or is Cinnamon just part of your sightseeing plan?”
Severin tilted his head and chuckled at her.
“Always the business woman, aren’t you? Just when I thought you were enjoying my company.” He placed a hand on his heart and sighed in an over the top way.
“There’s no reason I can’t mix business and pleasure.” Laurel squeezed the edges of the ribbon. Her fingers were quaking. “I’m here to assist you in any way I can.”
“Oh yes?” He followed the moves of her hand and the mess she was making out of the ribbon’s knot. “Miss Laurel, I’m sure you’d be excellent at serving… oh, I’m sorry, I meant assistance. After all, since I’m here, may I ask if you have a book on love potions?”
That caught Laurel off guard and a frown creased her forehead. She picked up her laptop and pretended to lean in and check the database.
“That’s an unusual request…” The lie came off naturally off her lips. Ever since she started this business, Laurel had met all sorts of clients. The high season brought the occasional wave of the hippie, New Age and spiritual crowd. Cinnamon’s Esoteric and Occult section was full to the brim. She didn’t need to check to know what they had in store… but Laurel wouldn’t trust that guy with an actual love potion book.
Why would he need it, anyway? His mere presence was intoxicating enough… or was it just the way he affected her?
“You don’t look too surprised.” He walked over to the first bookshelf nearby and picked up a book at random, without even looking at the title. Severin ran his fingers down the front cover. His gesture was shockingly similar to what Laurel had done earlier when she gave the enchanted book to Mark. “You aren’t easy to shock, are you, Laurel?”
She stopped pretending to be searching for the book and looked up at him. He was standing there, caressing the book as if it was the skin of a lover and his wicked little grin grew wider.
“I’m sorry but you’re out of luck, Severin. We’re all out of our magic books and merchandising. It’s Halloween, people have been buying them like hot cakes.”
That was the exact reason Corwin and her had stocked up on Halloween-themed goodies but the stranger didn’t have to know it. He was a magnet for her lady parts but she didn’t trust him even for a minute. The sooner he left town the easier she’d breathe.
“Really? Well, that’s a shame…” If that disappointed him it didn’t show. If he kept stroking the book in his hands, the poor thing would have to sue him for sexual harassment. Did he touch women that way, too? “I’m sure I can find something here that would satisfy my needs.”
Laurel shifted in her place with discomfort. All that sexual tension in the air made her crave touch. If he ordered her to bend over the counter she’d have to say no… and she found it very difficult to say so.
“You’re always welcome to come back and spend as much time as you wish in Cinnamon Bookshop.” She said with a fake smile and an insincere voice. If Severin visited them again and again, Laurel had no idea how she’d control herself. Her willpower was strong, but he was unlike anyone she ever met before.
Who knew how long it would take for him to overpower her and turn her into his obedient plaything? In that moment she was more than grateful for Corwin’s presence. If it weren’t for him, she could be really easy to capture.
The melancholy touched Severin’s cold eyes when he spoke again. “I really wish I could do that but it won’t be possible. I’m leaving this town first thing in the morning and I have no idea where the autumn wind will carry me.”
Laurel crossed her arms before her chest. She had to sigh with relief at these words. Why did they fill her with such a strange disappointment and anxiety? Did she really want him to stay and interfere with their peaceful life?
Corwin and her were fine and didn’t need that strange guy to be messing around with them. Strange guilt stabbed her in the chest as she thought of her pet.
He deserved her loyalty.
“It’s a pity you can’t stay here longer but it might be for the best.” She said and hurried to add, “This town is not a suitable place for a person who dislikes comfort zones. You’ll find it incredibly boring only after a week.”
He laughed again, and it was the same beautiful laughter, a little midnight spell. Laurel thought his carefree laughter was a sound she could never get tired of. What an odd thought.
She wanted him gone.
“You think I can ever get bored when there’s a woman like you around?” Severin leaned against the counter and brushed his thumb against her cheek. The unexpected intimacy of that gesture, its strange tenderness crushed all the reasons why Severin was bad news and had to leave. Laurel didn’t push him away, she didn’t fight or tell him he was crossing the line. None of those reasonable, normal things.
Instead, she got lost in the endless blue of his eyes and let his red seduction with a taste of blood wrap around her. Laurel leaned in against his palm, so cold against her skin.
“You probably don’t even realize it but…” He raised her hand and kissed it again. “It’s amazing you’re here. They used to burn women like you… and men like your companion.”
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